By Maury D. Gaston
Thousands of water professionals recently met for the industry’s annual flagship conference — an important event at an important time as we give attention to our nation’s infrastructure. While roads and bridges are visible reminders of the importance of infrastructure, equally important components are out of sight, but they need to always be in our mind. These critical components are underground pipelines that provide water and wastewater service.
Much of our nation’s public water supply system was built in the early 1900s as the industrial revolution brought millions from farms and rural areas to urban manufacturing and population centers. Another water system expansion occurred in the post-World War II era with the vast expansion of suburbs.
Our water pipeline network has served well, but a great deal has outlived its planned life expectancy and is in need of replacement and upsizing. Let’s be grateful the construction practices and material selection of previous generations were excellent and have provided a strong and substantial underground infrastructure often better than what we see above ground.
As we make local and informed choices about these underground upgrades and replacements, let’s keep the long view in mind, just as our predecessors fortunately did. Build with materials that are sustainable, strong and resilient, will last at least as long as the original choices, and have a valuable life cycle cost. More than 600 utility systems across the nation have iron pipe in service today that was placed in service more than 100 years ago. Material and joint technology have only improved, allowing us to use iron pipe today whose joints remain secure even while they deflect and which can telescope in and out with earth movement and internal and external loads. Innovative coating and lining technology has also developed such that today’s iron pipe is projected to last not just 100 years but even longer.
In the 100-plus years that iron pipe has been used, many alternative materials have come and gone, each one promising a cheaper and better experience but each one ultimately failing to deliver. These include lead pipe, asbestos pipe, and more recently various forms of plastic.
Iron pipe is proven to be safe for our drinking water supply, and advancements in joint and coating technology have ensured it remains a modern product delivering valuable service. Let your water utility operators know you prefer the safe and strong choice: iron pipe. It’s what America is built on.
Maury D. Gaston is the Vice Chair of the Alabama Iron and Steel Council and Member of the American Water Works Association.